November 28, 2000 -- Here's a story about public science that I find alarming. On October 26, 2000, I submitted a Letter to the Editor of the New York Times, hoping it would be published. It was not. I lost.
There could be several reasons and I do not know which one was the most important. Of course, the Times has the right to select, according to their judgement, what to print. Of course, there may have been many good letters that had to be set aside because of space considerations. And, of course, they may have really believed that my point is not well founded and not worth making (come to think of it, how can it be in 150 words?). So be it; that's their choice. Whatever!
Sour grapes on my part? I really don't think so. After 40+ years of working at all levels from WITHIN the scientific establishment and spending a substantial amount of the taxpayers' money, I feel passionately that this is an example of how science is misrepresented in the marketplace of ideas.
Here is my unpublished piece:
Jane Brody has recently been offering opinions in a New York Times column on cows' milk and human disease (e.g., 6/20/98; 9/26/00) that beg scientific credibility. As a widely known health journalist, she is taking too much liberty of stating "known facts" without allowing scientific scrutiny. I seriously challenge her views on most of her so-called "facts" alleging the health benefits of cows' milk while dismissing evidence to the contrary.
There IS compelling evidence, now published in top scientific journals, showing that cows' milk is associated, possibly even causally, with a wide variety of serious human ailments, including various cancers, cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, and an array of allergy related diseases. And, this food contains no nutrients that cannot be better obtained from other far more nutritious and tasty foods. A national dialogue is desperately needed on this topic, for there is far too much at stake, especially concerning the 26 million children in the school lunch program.
I previously have had little problem publishing commentary of this type in the professional and lay literature. However, this is proving extremely difficult when questioning the dogma on dairy. I am not especially surprised with this non-response, given the economic, cultural, and political considerations of this food in our society. But I must confess that I am becoming more than a little alarmed.
I am alarmed because Jane Brody, who has been an important opinion maker on food and nutrition issues, seems to have a voice and a platform which immunize her and her employer against public comment. She has often been quite responsible in her reporting on health issues, especially since she has virtually no formal education in nutrition or any experience in original
nutrition research. But in this instance, especially because of her widely published views in the food and nutrition area, she has an even greater need to be responsible for her opinions and to be open to comment.
I am exercised over this issue because I spent many years doing research on this and closely related topics and have acquired and spent millions of precious American tax dollars to pursue these interests. I have also come from a place similar to that of Ms. Brody, thus I think that I understand her views. Like her, I accepted the virtual religion surrounding this food. Perhaps, I
was even more enamored with this view on dairy because of my being raised on a dairy farm before pursuing its virtues in my graduate research program at Cornell and later in our research program. However, after teaching and doing the relevant research in depth and in breadth for many, many years, I now have had to acknowledge an alternative view.
I have been struck by the exceptionally profound results and observations, some of which are decades old, which now question the health claims for this food. Indeed, after publishing dozens of research papers on our findings in the professional literature, I finally engaged my mouth a few years ago to say what I came to believe. This included my recently giving a seminar here at Cornell posing the proposition that cows' milk protein may be the single most significant chemical carcinogen to which humans are exposed, to say nothing of its other adverse health effects. I am especially concerned about its effect on breast cancer and other cancers of the reproductive tract.
It is time to take these findings seriously. It is time that we consider having candid and professionally responsible public dialogue. But, alas, this is one topic that either becomes buried in isolated research papers receiving precious little recognition in the public media or that is dismissed as the words of someone who has a personal agenda. And this problem is no stranger to academia itself. From first hand experience, I have observed an unforgivable corruption of the academic process caused by the dairy lobby. If the public only knew what I have come to know, I have no doubt that the outcry would be deafening. At least, I take the liberty of believing that the public would be so attentive and so wise.
Prior to my writing the short letter that I had hoped to have published and before I knew the word limitation, I had written a slightly longer perhaps slightly more informative piece, as follows:
Jane Brody has recently been offering opinions in a New York Times column on cows' milk and human disease (e.g., 6/20/98; 9/26/00) that beg scientific credibility. As a widely known health journalist, she is taking too much liberty of stating "known facts" without adequate scientific scrutiny. I seriously challenge her views on most of her so-called "facts" alleging the health benefits of cows' milk while dismissing evidence to the contrary.
There IS compelling evidence, now published in top scientific journals and some of which is decades old, showing that cows' milk is associated, possibly even causally, with a wide variety of serious human ailments, including various cancers, cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, and an array of allergy related diseases. And, this food contains no nutrients that cannot be better obtained from other far more nutritious and tasty foods. A national dialogue is desperately needed for there is far too much at stake, especially concerning the 26 million children in the school lunch program.
Much of this disturbing evidence on the adverse health effects of dairy, obtained both from human and experimental animal studies, meets the test of biological plausibility.
Research in our own laboratory at Cornell University, supported by more than two decades of funding from the National Institutes of Health, the American Cancer Society and the American Institute for Cancer Research, has produced findings to support this concern. These extensive findings, published in the top scientific journals, show that cows' milk protein, for example, rather vigorously promotes tumor development in experimental animal studies at consumption levels equivalent to that of human consumption. And, when considering the remaining nutrient composition of cows' milk, this observation on protein is made even more disturbing.
The question is not whether we have air tight evidence on these disturbing observations. Rather, it is now time to begin taking seriously this disturbing evidence in respect to its consistency, its comprehensiveness, its plausibility, and its relevance for human health. Understandably, it is a difficult task to challenge such a popular food, especially when promoted by an industry with virtually unlimited funding to pedal their product. I know very well this difficulty, for I come from a background of dairy farming and graduate school training having indoctrinated me in the more traditional point of view. Nonetheless, it is now time, both within and beyond the professions, to begin a serious dialogue to consider the worthiness of these observations.
We must begin to seriously challenge, for example, a school lunch program used by 26 million school children that mandates the cows' milk option, only to risk compromising the health of so many children who are predisposed to allergenic and disease producing disturbances, simply to satisfy a government subsidy. We can no longer afford to be so constrained within a research funding environment that seriously limits an honest exploration of this issue. And we can no longer tolerate a media that, for whatever reason, finds it more acceptable to hide their own agenda at the expense of public health.
If anyone reading this piece has any ideas on how this topic might get a wider audience, please feel free to do with it as you wish (perhaps even including sending it to Ms. Brody, who should consider coming back to her alma mater here at Cornell to take my course in nutrition--I would welcome her participation and critique!).
Regardless what the evidence may turn out to be, it is imperative that, at a minimum, we agree to discuss the evidence--the good and the bad--in open forums. I once thought that that was what science is all about.
T. Colin Campbell, Ph.D.
Paracelsian, Inc., Ithaca, NY
Jacob Gould Schurman Professor of Nutritional Biochemistry
Cornell University, On Leave